Home & Garden

Learn how to prune effectively, but leave the big trees to a professional

Gardening columnit Elinor Teague recommends these books for tips on pruning.
Gardening columnit Elinor Teague recommends these books for tips on pruning.

Last week’s column described basic techniques for pruning small deciduous trees and bushes for home gardeners. Pruning larger landscape or fruit and nut trees is not a job for the home gardener with beginner pruning skills and knowledge. Because different species of trees have different growth habits and require pruning specific to that tree type, it’s important to study up before you start working on your trees and bushes.


I recommend Ortho’s “All about Pruning” as one of the very best (and cheapest) pruning guides. New and used copies are available online. The guide contains detailed instructions with great illustrations for pruning many species of deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs, vines and bushes including all types of roses. Pruning techniques are emphasized but you’ll also find illustrations on tree care including how to thin fruit and nuts, how to disbud camellias to create larger, showier flowers in spring or how to remove the “candles” on needled evergreen trees including pines, firs, spruces and cedars to control for size without pruning. I learned to prune by taking this book as well as the American Horticultural Society’s “Pruning and Training” (DK Publishing) into the garden with me.

Home gardeners have many opportunities to learn about pruning in our community. The Fresno County Master Gardeners offer several classes on pruning various types of trees and roses throughout the year. Visit their website, ucanr.edu/sites/mgfresno, to check class schedules. A free class on the “Fundamentals of Espalier” or training young trees to grow on a frame will be given on Wednesday, Nov. 28 from 9:30 to 11:30 at the Garden of the Sun, 1750 N. Winery Ave. in Fresno. (Note: The original version of this story incorrectly reported the day of the class as Saturday.)

The lovely Shinzen Garden in Woodward Park gives tours in early spring when visitors can follow experts as they prune and shape the Japanese maples, azaleas and camellias in the park. Watch their website, www.shinzenjapanesegarden.org, in the upcoming months for information on the pruning tours.


If you’re uncertain as to the species of trees and bushes in your garden, take photos and perhaps a small branch with leaves attached to a local nursery, a garden center with informed staff, or to the Fresno County Gardeners’ hotline staff at the UCCE office, 550 E. Shaw Ave. in Fresno or call the Fresno County Master Gardeners’ hotline at 559-241-7534 weekdays 9 a.m. to noon or email mgfresno@ucdavis.edu.

By law, trees over 15 feet tall must be pruned by a certified arborist. Not only is climbing a ladder while carrying sharp tools dangerous, but mistakes made by amateurs when pruning major branches and limbs can take years to correct.

It can take up to seven years to restructure the branches on poorly pruned large landscape trees and can cost more than hiring a certified arborist in the first place. Poor pruning severely stresses trees; many “topped” trees, a common sight in our neighborhoods, die within seven years of being topped or having major branches whacked off (like a crewcut) to control for size.

Our large landscape trees provide precious shade, wildlife habitats and natural beauty in our neighborhoods. Remember to deep irrigate large landscape trees monthly until the winter rains arrive.

Elinor Teague: etgrow@comcast.net